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Nosag Records

Stellan SAGVIK (b.1952)
Missa Maria Magdalena

Boel Adler (mezzo soprano) – Maria Magdalena
Olle Persson (baritone) – Jesus
Jan Nilsson (tenor) – Evangelist
Madelaine Wibom (soprano) – Marta
Marianne Lundquist (soprano) – Angel
Kjell Gustafson (bass) – Joseph
Ralph Gustafsson and Matthias Kjellgren (organ)
Maria Magdalena Motettkör/Ragnar Bohlin
Stockholm Blåsarsymfoniker/Mika Eichenholz
Recorded live in Maria Magdalena Church, Stockholm, April 1996
NOSAG CD 017 [78.51]

This is a slightly frustrating disc for non-Swedish speakers since there are no English notes and for an English libretto one is directed to a Stockholm phone number, something I must say I’ve not pursued. Naturally this serves mono linguists right; Swedes can cope with most languages under the sun. But it does rather limit appreciation of Sagvik’s big choral work and indeed limits awareness of the composer about whom I know little except that he’s composed in widely ranging forms (opera, film music, string quartets) and who began as a rock musician. He has a website, which I’ve noted above.

His Mass is a near eighty-minute work recorded problematically in Maria Magdalena Church, Stockholm, in 1996. There were spatial considerations involved – a big gap separated singers and conductors (something like forty yards) – and the church acoustic and recording set up makes for a degree of constriction. Still the work is certainly dramatic and, finally, cathartic. It opens deceptively before a sudden eruption of brass and percussion and voices; instrumentally one hears the coiling sound of saxophones as well. The Kyrie is sonorously meditative, the next movement strenuous with compelling and slowly moving brass behind the soloist. One can hear in Marta och Maria starkly modernist devices married to parlando and speech-singing elements. Where Sagvik asks for tricky balances (brass and percussion, bell tolls, solo voices heard in different spaces) the recording can be slightly askew but equally one can be arrested by a sumptuous and radiant sound, such as he produces in the Gloria with its somewhat marchy-jazzy, almost Waltonian presence.

The Mass takes in the story of Lazarus, the longest movement by some way, but reaches a peak of the viscerally pictorial with the nails being hammered through flesh in the Credo – punishing rhythms and declaiming choral interjections; baleful, brutal, leaving little to the imagination. This is reinforced in the Vid Golgata, which is viciously pounding and then flooded with plaintive reflection before we reach the Sanctus. Here triumphalism is interrupted by solo voices singing with yielding pliancy and the work arcs in a satisfactory way. This is never an easy listen but the concentration seldom sags. Curiosity may well be rewarded.

Jonathan Woolf


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